The intent of this post is not to blame, shame, or politicize data. I also don’t want to oversimplify a very complex issue. I simply want to share a perspective I don’t hear talked about a lot in Christian circles.
It is difficult for me to watch the news and scroll through my social media feeds without a sense that at some level we are failing children and youth on an unprecedented level. It’s everywhere.
We are Failing Our Kids
Postmodernism is redefining everything. Yuval Harari in his book, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” provides an excellent description of postmodernism: “Modernity is a surprisingly simple deal. The entire contract can be summarized in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power…Whoever determines the meaning of our actions – whether they are good or evil, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly – also gains the authority to tell us what to think and how to behave.”
Why are children failing?
If postmodernism contends that there is no objective truth…is it any wonder that children are suffering? I believe the family unit has been outsourcing and abdicating its responsibilities for generations because the institutions meant to help families, such as schools, churches, and government, have effectively neutered the authority of the family saying, “we can do it better than you,” and “we know better than you.” In essence, how dare you show up to a school board meeting and express your concerns about what is being taught or talk about the safety of your children without being labeled or looked down upon.
How are we failing children you ask? Let’s look at some of the data:
- Prior to the pandemic less than half of children in the US were flourishing according to a study out of John Hopkins. Children who are flourishing are directly connected to the strength (resilience and connection) of the parent/child relationship.
- Since the pandemic, these indicators of children failing have gotten worse. According to the CDC: a third (37%) of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health; 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless; 55% reported experiencing emotional abuse by a parent or other adult in the home, including swearing at, insulting, or putting down the student.
- Teen suicide is up (31% increase from 2019-2021) – and a fivefold increase in suicide attempts in children ages 10-12 (2010-2020)
Why are we not talking more about this? Why are children, after spending more time at home during the pandemic, seem to be worse off? Research tells us that the healthy parent/child relationship is critical to the long-term resilience of children and leads to better outcomes in children and adults than anything else. If children are doing worse, then what does that say about the health of homes and families? Our children should not be worse off.
#1 The Role of the Church
As I process what is happening culturally, what role does faith and the church play in all of this? Is this another institution that has missed the mark? I often hear the following sentiment from parents whose children are no longer in their homes and who have “walked away from the faith” yet attended church most of their lives and wrestle with regret about not being a better parent to their children: “I just wish I knew sooner what they needed from me.”
Well, why didn’t they know sooner? It’s because their primary and life-giving role is not elevated within the walls and programs of the church. It’s a secondary or tertiary intervention at best to help parents when it should be a primary role of the church to equip and inspire families to thrive and flourish.
On a regular basis, parents need to be reminded from the pulpit that they are their child’s number one pastor and then offer and design innovative ways to help them do that. Church Programming such as Sunday School, Youth Group, Retreats and Camps, and many other programs are meant to support the role of the parent—not replace.
Somewhere along the line, we have bought into the idea that a youth leader is better suited to teach our children about Jesus than parents are. We let them handle it – after all, they’re “cooler” than us. They understand Scripture, have a better understanding of the pressure teens face, and probably have some training on how to make a better impact on their lives.
Most youth leaders I know play a huge role in teens’ lives and in most cases the previous descriptions are true (cool, relevant, and can teach the Bible). But that doesn’t mean I outsource my child’s faith. I hope you do not hear criticism of the amazing work we are doing in our churches. But we can no longer pay lip service once a year to a child’s dedication of the important role parents play and then never mention it again.
#2 The Role of the Home
Research (i.e. Families and Faith, Vern Bengtson) and scriptures (i.e. Deuteronomy 6) instruct us that parents play the most important role in faith transmission. As Christian Smith (professor and author, “Souls in Transition”) has stated about the role parents play, “Parents are their child’s number one pastor.”
We are failing children because we are not respecting the design God has created in the way faith is transmitted. If my main role as a man (husband and father) in my house is to be pastoral in my home, how would that change and influence my everyday life?
Being pastoral is not optional. It’s a part of the design. As a dad, whether I am present or not, I am passing some sort of “faith” tradition down to my children. They will then live their lives accepting or rejecting the truth which I have modeled and taught them by the way I have lived and loved them. Do I lead with a Gospel centered worldview or a postmodern worldview?
The truth is we are impressing something onto our children. If not us, someone is waiting to impress something onto them.
There is no substitute for the direct investment a parent has on their children. Scholars will tell you, no one can replace the impact a parent has on the faith of their children. Our faith is something we cannot outsource to someone who has them for one to two hours a week. We must find partners in youth leaders and in the church to reinforce a strong faith, but their key role is to come alongside to support. It is my job as a parent to find key adults and communities to speak truth, love, and grace into their lives, and trust me…most youth leaders want to see you involved.
The truth is, fixing this problem starts with the very institutions I’ve mentioned in this post. We must stop playing the hero… and focus the strategies and programming around inspiring and equipping moms and dads in their families with the tools and truth that lead to better outcomes in them and in their children AND ultimately point to Jesus.
Portions of this post originally appeared at Roy Baldwin’s Sincere Religion